Rock climber falls to death at Thacher

Deadly climb: The Albany County Sheriff’s Office and park police closed down an area of the John Boyd Thacher Park Friday morning after discovering the body of an East Greenbush man. Police said the man was wearing climbing gear and entered the park before it opened to make the illegal climb police and that a climbing anchor was improperly used, causing the victim to fall 120 feet. While the park is considering opening some areas for climbing by permit, it has not yet adopted any policy and climbing remains illegal.


NEW SCOTLAND — A 44-year-old East Greenbush man fell 120 feet to his death Friday while attempting to illegally climb the Helderberg escarpment at the John Boyd Thacher State Park.

Police believe Ronald Gene Czajkowski was instantly killed by the fall after an improperly secured climbing anchor, attached at the top of the cliff, gave way.

He was a father of three children and graduated as president of his class at Chatham High School. (See obituary.)

As part of a larger draft master plan unveiled in July, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has decided to allow rock climbing at the park in designated areas where professional climbers would first install permanent climbing and safety aids. Climbers would also have to get a permit from the park before climbing.

The Thacher Climbing Coalition, a locally managed not-for-profit group, has been working with the agency to allow climbing at the park, but currently climbing anywhere at Thacher is forbidden.

“At this time, Thacher does not allow climbing or rappelling, we are asking people not to do that,” said Captain John Layton of the Albany County Sheriff’s Office. “A comprehensive plan is looking into incorporating it.”

Layton said park officials discovered Czajkowski car’s in a closed parking lot early Friday morning before the park opened for the day and began searching the area. A short time later, they found Czajkowski’s body near the Indian Ladder trail and called police.

Police received the 911 call at 7:43 a.m.

Thacher officials checked the park Thursday night at closing and said the victim’s car had not been there.  Investigators believe Czajkowski drove to Thacher at about dawn on Friday, driving around a shut gate, while the park was still closed, and attempted to rappel down the cliff alone.

Czajkowski was an amateur climber, said Layton, adding the victim had only recently tried the sport twice before.

“We determined this was only his third time doing this,” said Layton, “This certain individual went by himself, which is something not recommended for any climbers to do.”

As rock climbing becomes more popular, the amount of injuries has increased. In a January 2013 report by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, rock climbing accounted for 1,258 injuries annually.

Layton said he couldn’t recall another climbing death related to Thacher but said the sheriff’s office responded to other kinds of accidental falls or suicides about once a year at the park, some times more or less in a specific year.


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